Reason for the Downfall of the Houston Rockets?
The Portland Trailblazers eliminated the Houston Rockets from the NBA playoff thanks to a Game 6 last second, game-winning shot by Portland point guard Damian Lillard. While the Trailblazers deserve all the credit in the world for winning the first round series, a flaw in Houston’s game plan contributed to the outcome. The Rockets reliance on Dwight Howard as go-to scorer spelled their doom.
Less is More
Howard averaged 26 points per game for the series on 54 percent shooting from the field. The fewest points he scored in any game of the series was 22. Those should be winning numbers, but when Howard is overused in Houston’s offense, the Rockets struggle to win. In the regular season, Howard had two games with 20 or more field goal attempts. Houston lost both of those games, including one to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Howard matched his regular season total by having two games in the Portland series with 20 or more field goal attempts. Both of those games were losses as well. Despite developing his post-up game in recent years, Howard isn’t reliable enough to put his team on his back and lead them to victory.
Generally, the more plays run for Howard the more trips to the free throw line he makes. A career 54 percent shooter from the charity stripe, Howard going to the free throw line shouldn’t always be viewed as a good thing. Throughout his career his teams have had varying amounts of success in games he goes to the free throw line a lot, but when they have lost, his missed free throws have proven to be costly.
In the series against Portland, Howard had three games in which he had double-digit free throw attempts. All three were losses as he missed 19 free throws in those games and the Rockets lost by an average of two points per game. Fault Houston head coach Kevin McHale for involving Howard in the offense late in Game 6, allowing Portland to send him to the line where he missed four free throws in the final three minutes of the 99-98 loss.
Houston should take a cue from the 2008-09 Eastern Conference Champions Orlando Magic and take pressure off of Howard by using the scorers that surround him. That Orlando team featured Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, who both averaged more field goal attempts per game than Howard even though Howard led the team in scoring.
Howard wasn’t overused, he just expertly rebounded, played defense, and scored when the opportunity presented itself. Howard’s shot attempts per game decreased during those playoffs, and even point guard Rafer Alston took more shots than he did that postseason.
In star James Harden and capable scorers Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones, Houston can duplicate this strategy, much like it did in parts of the regular season. There was no reason for the Rockets to heavily rely on Howard in the playoffs and they paid the price for doing so.
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